KEITH FLETT looks back to the general election of 1992 when Major defeated Kinnock
TONY BLAIR, not for the first time, has opined that Labour should be further ahead in the polls from the Tories than they are.
His drift is clear enough. Despite the fact that Jeremy Corbyn won 40 per cent of the vote in a general election as recently as June, he is not the person to lead Labour to an election victory in the way that Blair did.
Here he is doing two things. First he is avoiding actual consideration of why the Tories also regularly score around 40 per cent in polls given the political debacle Theresa May is presiding over.
Second he is deliberately delving in the twilight zone of the 1990s, a period that is not yet quite history.
He is reckoning on people remembering or knowing about his landslide victory of 1997 but having little or no knowledge of the context of the years between 1992 — when Neil Kinnock lost to John Major — and 1997.
Let’s remind ourselves of the June 2017 general election result.
Despite predictions that Corbyn was leading Labour to electoral disaster, Labour won 12,878,640 votes. Its 40 per cent share of the vote was 9.6 per cent up since the 2015 general election and one of the best Labour performances since 1945.
The follow-up to this has become the “Peak Corbyn” idea. Namely that Corbyn has done well but in order to beat the Tories a new leader is needed.
This leaves the real question of how the zombie-like Tory administration can poll roughly the same figures as Labour or certainly why Labour doesn’t have a 10 point-plus lead.
Here there are two answers. One current and one relating to the history of the 1992-97 period.
The current issue is that the vote of Ukip has collapsed. It got 12.6 per cent in 2015 and 1.8 per cent in June.
A good deal of that (but not all of it) has gone back to the Tories.
Second the Lib Dem vote remains very low around 6-7 per cent.
Given the virulence of Lib Dem attacks on Corbyn, it’s safe to say they understand that some of their vote has also gone back to the Tories.
But to fully understand the Tories’ 40 per cent poll rating we need to look back to 1992.
By 1992 Thatcher had been forced to resign over the poll tax debacle and was replaced by Major. He, unexpectedly and quite narrowly, beat Labour, led by Kinnock, in a general election on April 9 1992.
For the few months afterwards the Tories led Labour on average by five points in the opinion polls.
Then came Wednesday September 16 1992, “Black Wednesday.”
On that day, the Tory government withdrew the pound from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
In order to protect the pound, Chancellor Norman Lamont raised interest rates from 10 per cent to 12 per cent in the morning, and then up to 15 per cent in the afternoon.
The following day interest rates returned to 10 per cent, but the damage was done in terms of electoral standing.
Voters with mortgages, perhaps more inclined to vote Tory, had seen the spectre of the cost rising by 50 per cent in a day.
If it had happened once, clearly it could happen again.
By November 1992, polls were showing ratings of around 30 per cent for the Tories and 50 per cent for Labour.
They changed little until the eventual election in 1997. Labour’s lead was nothing to do with Blair, who wasn’t Labour leader in 1992, but with an event so potentially cataclysmic in its impact that it stuck in voters’ minds.
The May government hasn’t yet managed a similar episode, hence its ratings are holding up.
However the potential for it to do something similar to Black Wednesday is massive.